Michael Gove was a bloody terrible education secretary, who mucked up the nation’s schools in an ideologically driven quest to slay an imaginary monster called “the blob”. Later, he rebuilt his political reputation doing a fairly good job at Justice, and even the left-leaning lawyers I know generally speak fondly of his tenure after the horror show put on by the bloke who came before (we’ll come back to him). He’s not completely screwing up at Environment either, as far as I can see, although given our low expectations for the politicians tasked with preventing us from burning up this rock we live on, that is admittedly something of a low bar.
I offer this brief review of Michael Gove’s political career in an article about someone else entirely so as to make the point that I am still just about capable of acknowledging people’s abilities and achievements even when they are, to my mind, completely and terrifyingly fucking wrong about Brexit. It would be strange, frankly, were I not. My dad was a Brexiteer. Half my family are Brexiteers. One of my closest friends is a Brexiteeer, and he’s the most practically competent person I know, and someone who may very well be getting a phone call begging for help this weekend because my bedroom blind has come out of the wall scattering plaster all over the bedroom floor, and then my hoover exploded, and oh god.
Anyway, enough about me, what’s Chris Grayling been up to? He’s been talking to Sebastian Whale of The House magazine who, cheeky tyke that he is, asked the Transport Secretary how he got a reputation as (I paraphrase) the least competent human in Britain.
Grayling is sanguine. “You just take it on the chin and get on with the job,” he says, even as we wish he wouldn’t. He goes on to claim that some of the criticism comes from left-wing trade unionists who don’t like his plans for Britain’s transport system; some is because he’s just been too gosh darn brave in his quest to take on vested interests over Heathrow.
But some, he says, is because he’s… well, look:
“Some people who want to have a go because I’m pro-Brexit. A lot of people out there want to frustrate the democratic will of the British people who voted to leave the EU and because I’m a prominent Brexiteer in the Cabinet who backs the Prime Minister’s deal I’m a lightning rod for the anti-Brexit brigade.”
Let’s see that again: Chris Grayling thinks people say Chris Grayling is a useless Transport Secretary because he’s pro-Brexit.
Well. It’s an argument.
I almost feel bad about this, because I’ve heard from multiple people now that, whatever else he is, Chris Grayling is a genuinely nice man. He is, unlike some of our leaders, not in himself a malicious force.
So, perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps we should accept his argument. When half the British rail system fell over at once last year, perhaps we only blamed the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling because he was pro-Brexit. Perhaps when he awarded a £13.8m ferry contract to a company that turned out not to have any boats, this was actually a very clever ploy, which we couldn’t see only because we were blinded by our loathing for Brexit. Perhaps when that video emerged of the sitting Transport Secretary physically knocking a cyclist off their bike with a car door, and then berating them for it, the only reason it went viral at all is because nefarious pro-Remain forces can’t forgive him for Brexit.
Perhaps even the catalogue of entirely avoidable fuck-ups dating from before the referendum – the expenses scandal, confusing Manchester with Baltimore, attempting to ban books for prisoners, failing to protect the judiciary from political interference, directly engaging in that political interference, literally everything else he did at Justice that, to go back to where we started, enabled Michael Gove to rebuild his own reputation for political and administrative competence – perhaps the only reason anybody noticed any of that was because they had an inkling that one day Britain would hold a referendum over leaving the EU, which Leave would win, and that Grayling would play a very minor part in. Perhaps he’s never made a mistake in his life, and we’re all just a bunch of big mean meanies.
Or, perhaps, he’s shit.